Summer Crossing

Posted: November 5, 2020 in Book reviews
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By Truman Capote

Grady McNeil, a 17-year-old debutante, refuses to travel to Europe with her parents and instead remains in New York where she pursues a relationship with Clyde Manzer, a Jewish parking lot attendant. Over the course of a sweltering summer their relationship becomes increasingly serious, even as the cultural and class divides between them becomes ever more obvious.

I came to admire Capote quite by chance. A few years ago the university I worked at gave away free copies of In Cold Blood and, never one to turn down a free book, I took one, not expecting to read it. But read it I did and blimey it was amazing! Having enjoyed one book, I soon snapped up Breakfast at Tiffanys, and again I really enjoyed it. Of course even when I decide I like a writer I can be very slow in picking up other work by them, so flash forward a couple of years and I finally buy another Capote book when I got a copy of Summer Crossing.

This is Capote’s first novel, one he started writing in 1943 before eventually discarding it unfinished. For many years it was thought lost until a manuscript was found at the Manhattan apartment that Capote had lived until around 1950. The finders initially thought they’d located a fortune, but the manuscript failed to sell at auction because publication rights to all of Capote’s work are held by a literary trust. Eventfully the New York Public Library agreed to buy the manuscript for it’s Capote Collection and soon after the book was published.

This is both interesting but also important context. It explains why the novel is so sparse (more of a novella really) why it ends quite abruptly, and also why, in parts, it’s a trifle rough around the edges. Don’t get me wrong, Capote’s way with words is here, and his characters leap off the page, but this is clearly someone at the beginning of his career rather than someone more assured in his prose.

Grady is an interesting character, and I can see why people have made comparisons with Holly Golightly, although I’d say Holly is a much more fully rounded character. Grady is at first insufferable, in a way teenagers often can be, certain of her own importance, feeling invincible and disdainful of others. As the story progresses though our perceptions of her shift, until by the end we remember that she is barely an adult, and Capote deftly makes us care more about her when she realises she’s little more than a child playing dress up, and there are consequences to her fun and games.

Manzer is interesting too, especially his backstory and the tragedy relating to one of his sisters. Peter Bell—Grady’s friend and possible romantic interest—is intriguing. Is he genuinely interested in her, or is he actually closeted and does he see Grady as merely a cover to prevent awkward questions being asked? He clearly loves her, but is his amour platonic or romantic? Capote leaves us guessing either way.

The other major character is New York, and Capote evokes a time and a place I’ve only seen in movies. The oppressive heat is ever present however, providing a pressure cooker environment for Grady and Clyde’s tempestuous relationship as they bounce from practically breaking up to taking their relationship to a whole new level.

It’s fair to say this is probably my least favourite Capote work, so far, and you can see why he abandoned it, I do wonder where he would have taken the story, the ending we get is bleak yet ambiguous, and I can’t help but think he had yet more despair lined up for Grady, though perhaps with some form of redemption with Peter, though if some critics are correct about Peter’s proclivities this might have been a hollow kind of happiness. As it is Grady ends the book slave to her passions, but maybe that’s for the best.

An intriguing read, and hopefully it won’t be a few years before I buy another Capote book.

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